sábado, septiembre 16, 2006

Artículo de The Economist

A difficult pill to swallow
Sep 14th 2006 | SANTIAGO
From The Economist print edition
A plan to tackle teenage pregnancies

IF CHILE'S health minister, Dr Soledad Barría,
thought that making her announcement at a quiet
Saturday session of a gynaecological conference
would help the news to slip down more easily, she
was wrong. For many in Latin America's most
socially conservative country, the idea of their
teenage daughters being able to nip round to
their local health centre for emergency
contraception—the morning-after pill—without
their knowledge or consent, is too much for them to swallow.

“It's like telling them just to get on with it
and have sex,” lamented one working-class mother.
She has reason to be worried: 40% of sexually
active 15-18-year-olds do not use any form of
contraception, sex education is scanty,
information on AIDS virtually non-existent, and
condom-vending machines nowhere in sight. But the
government of Michelle Bachelet, president since
March and herself a paediatrician, points out
that youngsters, many of them barely in their
teens, are already having sex and that, not
surprisingly, many of them are getting pregnant.

According to a 2003 survey, around 15% of all
babies in Chile are born to teenage mothers. The
proportion ranges from 22% in the poorest
neighbourhood of Santiago to just 1% in the
richest. The centre-left coalition, which has
governed Chile since 1990, is partly to blame for
that glaring difference. For several years now,
the private health services, used by better-off
Chileans, have been prescribing the morning-after
pill to teenagers even without their parents'
consent, while the national health service,
catering for poorer Chileans, is still restricting its use to rape

In defiance of the solidly Catholic Christian
Democrat party, the ruling coalition's biggest
partner, Ms Bachelet, who is herself an agnostic
socialist, has now decided that the national
health service should prescribe the morning-after
pill to anyone over the age of 14, the legal age
of consent, who wants it. In response to protests
by horrified parents and opposition politicians,
the Santiago Appeals Court issued a temporary
injunction on September 13th banning the national
health service from prescribing the pill to
anyone aged under 19 without their parents'
consent. But doctors argue that, if parents have
a say, teenagers may be put off going to health
clinics and end up seeking an illegal and risky backstreet abortion

Dr Barría's announcement raised a predictable
outcry among conservative opposition politicians
and the Catholic Church. The plan “recalls the
public policies of totalitarian regimes that
wanted to impose state regulation on people's
intimate lives,” thundered the Church. Ms
Bachelet insisted that she was not seeking to
impose her beliefs on anyone; she was merely offering alternatives.

And that, rather than easier access to
contraception, is why so many young Chileans are
jubilant. For them, the government's
morning-after plan is one small sign that Chile's
16-year-old democracy may at last be mature
enough to start offering greater personal choice
and, they hope, greater tolerance of diversity.
Many of their parents are wondering quite where
it will all end. The legalisation of abortion? Gay marriage? Whatever

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